Specifically around the area of patron (or borrowers as we call them in the old country) data, both personal and activity data from within a library system. There seems to be three shades of strongly held opinion.
The do-what-everyonelse-does faction promote the fact that people are happy for Amazon, Flickr, Facebook, and the rest to store and use their data to deliver a better service for them – so why should libraries be any different.
The there-is-data-and-there-is-data group point out that they are not talking about really personal data (such as birth date, phone number, social security number), but general information (along the lines of ‘an unknown 2nd year engineering student has loaned these books). Anonymous but very useful data that could add great value to the services offered by a library.
The expunge-any-and-all-data-once-it-is-not-absolutely-necessary grouping seem to think it is a massive violation of privacy to even keep a record of previous loans so that you could tell someone what the title of that book they borrowed last summer was.
In that final grouping I believe there are some who are clutching at the privacy issue as a way to slow or even stall the move towards social networking and other 2.0-ish influences that are changing the balance of interaction between librarians and their patrons.
It would be disingenuous to colour all those at the keep it private end of the debate with this motivation, but I do feel that there are some out there that think this way. How often in a conference session about the wonders of social networking, or one that points out the fact that OPAC results would be more relevant if you could use a student’s course information in the ranking algorithm, do you hear the ‘but you are exposing private data so it will never work‘ comment?
Let’s face it, in the broad grouping of opinions we find in the librarian community, there are a few who are not comfortable with things 2.0, and would prefer things to stay as they are. It is to these that others at the other end of the spectrum of opinion may be tempted to attach the label luddite, especially in these times when it is fashionable to espouse the virtues of using people data to add value.
There is much to be worked out as to the how, how much, by whom, for whom, with what permission, under what control, of the data held about the users of our systems, but I believe that some opening up is already starting to happen. Those using the privacy issue as a reason to hold back innovation in this area will eventually find themselves bypassed.
Having said all that, I don’t expect my local library to be sharing any of my personal information without my permission anytime soon. I would hope that sometime soon they will be using my borrowing patterns to help others with their choices; my clicks to help improve navigation through their software; my demographic profile to provide a better service to me; and possibly even providing OpenID verification from a service I trust.
Picture by wasabicube on Flickr